In a world where almost everything can be quantified into some sort of measurement or objective medium, cables stand apart as being something different where little tests can’t prove anything, and stuff we can measure such as purity, is both way too expensive and not very revealing in terms of performance. Because of that we get what I like to simply put as BULLSHIT. I think that it stems through a lack of education into cables with a certain susceptibility to good old fashioned marketing and for these reasons companies with the most support and funding, they end up taking a lot of sales. Just look at what Nordost are doing with what seems like not a hope in hell in terms of cable design. But oh how they sculpt their words to lure you into purchasing a headphone cable that contains almost no wire. The sad thing is not enough people are willing to stand up to the snake oil, not in a constructive way anyway. An internet troll commenting how cables “cannot” make a difference in Facebook groups and on audio forums won’t go far. Yes, it will bait people into entering rage mode but it offers no points of education. I think the biggest problem lies in the big publications and so called “professional” reviewers. They confess their love to the companies who can afford the marketing such as Nordost and Wireworld but only because its in their best interest. At the Bristol Sound and Vision Show 2016 (just last weekend) we heard some boutique Swedish speakers from a company called Larsen. A reviewer from HiFi World was in the room at the same time and they asked if he would be willing to do some sort of article, he countered with the fact he only deals with bigger brands, Josh wanted to go give him a piece of his mind. Because of this the Nordost’s of the world likely triumph and the smaller guys, the Double Helix Cable’s can be overshadowed.
Double Helix Cable’s I have written about before, they are on my Pride of Place as best cable manufacturer for a reason and there projects never cease to amaze me. This is not a huge factory operation like Crystal Cable in the Netherlands, it is just Peter Bradstock working as hard as he can to design the best cables, with the odd help of his wife’s braiding skills. While I say he/they are one of the smaller guys, he has over his time made a huge impact in the headphone community that he serves dearest with nothing but positive feedback but it still bugs me every time I catch someone flogging a Nordost cable as the best thing to grace a headphone, because that title solely belongs to DHC’s Silver Complement 4. At $999 without options this cable is not cheap but unlike other absurdly expensive cables, it warrants it. Seriously if you want a good but more affordable cable, DHC have plenty of options within ranges like the Molecule but if you want the best, then this is the direction. I think some clarification is also quickly needed, don’t be stupid and buy this for your Beats by Dre, or any other cheapo headphones for that matter, you just won’t get any mileage, anything but a flagship headphone and you shouldn’t warrant this purchase. Unless you honestly prefer say a HD650 to any other headphone on earth. If not your money should be spent on a headphone upgrade.
The Complement Evolution
Complement is DHC’s ultimate cable range. While Symbiote solely services your IEMs, they have two ranges for headphones. The Molecule is the more compact and classic style of headphone cable, the Complement is something much more, but clearly more ideal for home use. Now recently introduced is a tier list for each of their ranges, depending on the material of choice. Starting with types of copper, then moving to a “Fusion” of silver and copper (my Comp3 was this) and then lastly two tiers of Silver, with the smaller litz being tier 4 and then the 22AWG version being the final tier, “the top configuration”. While the chart may mislead you with the placement of the Comp4 in tier 4, it is in fact using the 22AWG silver. You can pay a mighty $600 on top of the $999 Comp4 Silver to have it become the grand Spore4, the ultimate headphone cable. It adds more shielding, metal in fact which will obviously behave different to the carbon my Comp uses. The likelihood is lower noise floor among other effects but Peter tells me it is stiffer and ergonomics aren’t as good. I will pass but you may crave the better shielding.
Why do DHC top out at silver? Gold is great right? Hell no, even a 1% addition of gold will decrease conductivity by potentially more than 15%, i’d stay clear from any of the gold cables shills are selling.
With any great product series there comes a learning curve. I got on the bandwagon with the Complement 3 a product that balanced raging success with some huge flaws. You can get the full run down in its own review.
The bottom line though was that while sounding beyond anything, it was like having a fat speaker cable dangling from your head and the pain on your neck… well lets say it was rather real. The stiffness and weight was a byproduct from the extreme damping and shielding in the cable but the poor ergonomics left me feeling 50/50 about it, the sound pulled me in but the comfort pushed me away.
So with the Complement 4 Peter tasked himself the impossible, continue to refine the sound while drastically improve ergonomics. The result, well the Comp3 is now discontinued, surely that speaks in volumes. Because I had a Comp4 being built, Peter actually had me send my Comp3 back so it could emerge from the flames like a phoenix as a top level pair of balanced interconnects, easily replacing the expensive Nordost Frey 2 (loan) that were previously in my system.
The difference in usability from the Comp3 I had to the Comp4 I now have is night and day. The Comp4 is still a big cable but compared to the 3, it is lighter, thinner and most importantly really flexible. Per channel is a 2 cable weave, both with their own sleeving which comes in your own choice of colour, I have the white & metallic silver and its awesome. The sleeving and braid still make this more bulky that any other cable, meaning it is not quite the ideal product for on the move listening, it could be done, but I would stick to recommending this for a home environment, one that is quiet, and you will reap all the benefits of its quality. While I love the range of sleeves that do look sick I just got Cardas’s A8 IEM and they have a sleeving that actually looks like DNA, I couldn’t help but imagine this on the Comp4 hehe.
Like all of Bradstock’s creations you can go crazy with options and make the cables suit your system, be it a standard single ended one or a more exotic balanced system, like my Questyle CMA800R mono blocks. Because that runs a dual 3 pin XLR output both my channel cables are completely separate like interconnects. If you are getting a cable that involved a Y split such as a 6.3mm jack or a 4 pin XLR, you can get crazy options, the real reason I added this section. DHC have been playing around with 3D printing and you can have precious metal Y splits for an additional cost, you know, in case you want a rose gold split for your pure silver cable, the Y split seems to be the best place for gold in my opinion. Because you of course choose what headphone type you want them to suit too, I went for HD800 and also got some of the EPIC ultrashort adapters so I can use with whatever headphones I like. Sadly though when I got the new Enigmaacoustics Dharma which also uses HD800 ports, they recession meant I had to peel back the heat shrink on the connectors. DHC are aware of this and now have Dharma compatible cables so this is not an issue. It was however to late for my cables which are now hacked up.
The Perfect Headphone Cable?
So finally ergonomics are covered with a Complement cable so the final test that stands before this to determine if it is the perfect cable would be sound. The tough part is that I have not had a single cable that actually stands as a real comparison to this. Be it the puny stock cable or one of the models I have received from Effect Audio, PlusSound or Nordost. The comparison that would have been best may have been my old Complement 3 but thats now on heavy duty between my totaldac and Questyle monos. What is radical from even the first listen with the DHC is that this cable is louder than some others. The thick gauge of wire and the extreme conductivity of OCC silver makes this detectably louder than say the Nordost Heimdall 2 right from the get go. I think that says a lot about this cable.
That was just a testament of the conductivity though, something worth paying attention but maybe you’re thinking it’s no big deal, your amp has plenty of power and you don’t need more volume. Too darn right, this cable better sound freaking good at the price bracket. This does separate it from the cheaper options with its sound and not having anything to do with the louder volume of this cable, it sounds BIG. I am talking strong, meaty bass, engaging mids that are nice and personal, and a treble with sparkle in all the right places. Nothing is boosted mind you, it is still impeccably balanced, just everything about it is bold and exciting. The sound staging is a bit more in you face because of this, intimacy is apparent but there is still a real obvious scale to the sound. Did I mention its big sounding?!
Here is a quote from my Nordost review where I compared the two.
“I don’t know what it is but it sounds relieving to listen to the DHC, everything is just so much more open and it is like a veil has been removed from the music….”
I really like this description of the cable. It is a bit of an experience moving to this cable, more so because it is just more transparent than any other cable I own. While some cable may seem warmer or brighter or have more emphasis in a certain region. I think it is simply a colouration that this does not have, making this sound more balanced but free. Now with me saying this to be transparent and balanced I may be confusing you because you heard them rumours that silver cables are in fact very bright and you certainly would not be alone in wanting a “bright” silver cable on something like the HD800s. I really don’t know where these notions even started, I have had brighter sounding silver cables, brighter sound copper cables and not once do I think the sound was down to the materials per say. This is not a bright cable as I have said and more importantly, does magical things with the HD800, my reference headphone.
That is actually something Peter does a lot at DHC, listen to his cables with a range of headphones. His collection makes mine pale in comparison but it is all in the name of science, of course making sure his cables fit a certain new headphone but more so sound right with them. If the stigmas about silver and copper were true then he would have heard this and may have been inclined to send me a copper Comp4 for my HD800s but in his listening he loved the silver Comp4 with the HD800s just as much as I have been. Just forget about what other people try and tell you about cables.
Any Flagship Headphone Deserves One!
I really think so. Whether I say it or not it doesn’t help me nor will it hold me back. It would have benefited me a lot more to say this about the Nordost cable, they have a much bigger network to share my link to, they have a big budget I know they mentioned sponsoring sites with. All this doesn’t matter to me, I want to tell you what I think the best cable is and thats the Silver Complement 4. All round as well, sound combined with ease of use. Mine is a bit dog eared now I made it fit the Dharma but its just as special. Maybe you can get even better sound from DHC, Peter seems sure with his Spore models but I need some comfort when I listen, but I am happy at how well my old stiff Comp3 perform as interconnects!
Now I know the price is not cheap and I am not a huge fan of recommending a cable more expensive than your headphone. That being said this does perform admirably on my ZMF Blackwood so there may be a few headphones under a $1k that deserve this but for the most part this should be for the HD800S, LCD-4s and HE-1000s of the world and if your system is up to task, trust me on the mileage you will get from this cable!